Squeeze the Day

Limoncello is not any old fruit liqueur; it’s straight-up sunshine in a bottle. Liquid gold, simultaneously tart, tangy, smooth, and sweet, is so much more than the sum of its parts. Three simple, common ingredients are all you need, aside from the intangible addition of time. More patience is needed than anything else, as the infusion grows stronger, more fragrant, more colorful by the day. Though the temptation may feel irresistible at times, summon all your willpower to keep a lid on it, literally.

Intense citrus flavor allows this elixir to mix beautifully with other spirits or sparkling beverages without ever risking dilution. Traditionally enjoyed as a digestif, a simple shot can be equally restorative, waking up the senses with such a boldly fragrant, vivacious lemon essence.

Needless to say, every ingredient counts when so few make the cut. Do not skimp on lesser citrus especially, as none can match the delicate nuances and almost jammy sweetness of Meyer lemons, which come without the harsh acidity of conventional varieties. Likewise, this is the time to break out the good stuff from your secret stash at the back of the liquor cabinet. It’s impossible to end up with unpalatable Limoncello, truth be told, but it’s just as effortless to create something truly unparalleled in quality.

Though the wait time may seem daunting, don’t let that scare you off. The results are worth any delayed gratification, as no store-bought variety will ever taste as fresh.

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You Brew You

Bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, I stumble into the kitchen and blindly rummage around for sustenance. Sheer muscle memory propels me forward before my brain has fully activated, recharged and ready to begin processing a new day. Coffee is the switch that flips it on, that starts the cycle anew, for me and so many millions, if not billions of other sleepyheads across the globe. How you choose to brew says a lot of about culture, economics, habits, and personal taste, but more attention is paid to the beans than the actual mechanics of making a cuppa. Respectably so, for all their natural nuances, slick brands and designer packages notwithstanding; the bean alone is a weighty decision to contemplate when the need for caffeine overrules all other sensible demands.

Let’s take a step back for a moment to appreciate the method of making coffee itself. Do you use an electric, automatic drip coffee maker like most Americans? One of those ubiquitous plastic models always found in attendance at moving sales year round? Maybe you have more than one, because it never hurts to have a backup. Cheap, easy, accessible, reliable; I’m there with you, friends. There’s nothing wrong with the effortless instant gratification of push-button service, delivering a hot cup of coffee on demand, no questions asked.

When it comes to manual brewing methods, you take control back into your hands, quite literally.

Pour Over (Chemex, Hario V60, Kalita Wave, Clever): Functioning almost exactly like a standard drip machine without the buttons or whistles, there are a number of popular variations on the concept but it all boils down to pouring hot water over grounds, slowly allowing the brewed liquid to run down into a waiting glass below. It takes patience and a steady hand, but no real skill since gravity does all the hard work. Use a medium grind to extract the brighter, lighter, more floral flavor notes without any hint of bitterness. Different models have their own uniquely patterned ridges built in, which will each affect the rate of drainage differently and produce surprisingly distinctive results. Which is “best” is just a matter of preference, so experiment a bit to find what tastes just right to your palate.

Plunger (French Press, AeroPress): Most people are familiar with the French press due to it’s accessibility and wide availability. Simply add grounds, water, steep, and plunge. There are no disposable filters to trifle with and no waste as a result. Detractors grouse about gritty brews or long steeping times, but a properly sealed, well-built device shouldn’t give you any trouble. Because the beans have full contact with the hot water for the entire time, this approach extracts the full gamut of flavors locked within, as well as the most antioxidants and caffeine. Use a coarse ground to enjoy the most robust results in a traditional French press, but fine for an AeroPress, which does use filters to catch any residual sediment.

Cupping Brewer (Rattleware): Uncommon outside of serious barista circles, it doesn’t get much simpler in concept, or more complex in flavor. Grounds and water combine for extended brew times, 10 minutes and beyond, to get every element of the bean to come forward. Grounds float toward the surface, to be skimmed off with a spoon before sipping. Though impractical for multiple servings, it’s an ideal way to truly appreciate a fresh brew with zero waste. Use a very coarse grind and be prepared to stop drinking before you reach the bottom, since most will settle and remain there. It’s impossible to avoid consuming at least some of the sediment, so this stuff is like rocket fuel.

There’s also the stove top moka pot, although I’d argue that this begins to skew into a more hands-off realm where the device does most of the heavy lifting. In fact, there are electric versions available, which always pull in top recommendations from experts, so I don’t trifle with the low tech toys. Siphons, using vacuum pressure to force hot water through coffee grounds, could also fall under this distinction, but they’re more of a novelty than realistic appliance for the average home brewer. Plus, the cost for entry is rather steep- No pun intended.

Across the board, general guidelines for success start with using 60 grams of coffee for every 1 quart of water (yes, you really should weigh it!) and water heated to 195 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit, ideally in a goose neck kettle for easy maneuvering.

How do you do your brew? Go outside your comfort zone and try something new. You may just discover a whole new world of flavors locked within the same beans you already love, and only thought you knew.

 

 

 

Head in the Clouds

Foam is just one important feature that sets espresso drinks apart from one another, but Starbucks has turned it into the feature, filling half of each plastic cup with the stuff for their new Cloud Macchiato. Literally translated as “stained coffee,” a standard caffè macchiato is much like a latte in basic composition, but wholly unique in assembly. Starting with a base of steamed milk, a shot of espresso marks the spot, and a layer of foam seals the deal. Since more is always better by the American Standard, we simply took that finale to all new heights, turning it into a veritable meringue island on a thimbleful of brown liquid.

Maddeningly, while a regular macchiato can be made vegan with any non-dairy milk, the cloud cannot. Whether served hot or over ice, with cinnamon or caramel, egg whites are the secret ingredient that give this frothy crown its loft.

Here’s the silver lining to this cloud: It’s really a snap to make at home.

Fluffy, ethereal spoonfuls of fine bubbles cloud chilled glasses thanks to everyone’s favorite bean brine. That’s right: Aquafaba strikes again! Lightly beaten before reaching soft peaks, it holds its shape admirably without casting an overtly beany fog over the beverage. Luxuriously velvety yet far lighter in texture than the more typical whipped cream, the results are arguably more satisfying than a slushy old frappuccino and considerably healthier, too.

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Beets Me

This blog post is sponsored by iHerb but as always,the opinions and experiences expressed in this post are my own.

Blood red, murky liquid filled the glass, dark and menacing, yet impossibly, inexplicably appealing. Touted as an everyday superfood, hidden in plain sight on the supermarket shelves yet locked away just beyond reach, beet juice is both laughably commonplace and frustratingly difficult to get a hold of all at once. Brimming with nutrients shown to improve stamina, improve blood flow, and help lower blood pressure, vitamins and minerals are all locked away within the tough, fibrous exterior of these hard root vegetables. Drinking straight beet juice cuts out the middleman to make this rich source of folate, potassium, vitamin C, and antioxidants, far more accessible for instant absorption. Call it the new energy drink; no caffeine need apply.

What of the flavor, you ask? Some people can’t get past that deep, earthy taste, but all I get is subtle, natural sweetness. It helps that I’ve taken to mixing up Nature’s Way Beet Root Powder lately, which is far easier than fumbling with a messy juicer and consistently palatable. Mixing up instantly with plain water, you couldn’t find a better source of instant vegetative goodness.

Idly browsing the pages of iHerb as I’m apt to do, powdered beets stood out as a specialty item that should really be a mainstream staple. I’ve never encountered this powerful new ingredient before, which makes it particularly fortunate that iHerb is fully stocked, carrying this and over 400 Nature’s Way products that can be shipped to over 160 countries, and representatives that offer support in 10 languages.

For those of you still balking at the idea of chugging a tall glass of beet juice, no matter how mild, fear not. I have three different ideas here for refreshing, revitalizing drinks you will genuinely enjoy.

Popularized by Starbucks but improved by real ingredients, the famous pink drink blushes a bit more boldly with an infusion of not only Wilderness Poets Freeze Dried Dragon Fruit Powder for flavor, but our hero, the beet mixed in for backup support. Stash Mango Passionfruit Tea brews up a tropical base for both the colorful swirl and rich cream contrast, thanks to Earth Circle Organics Coconut Cream Powder, creating a far more flavorful blend than anything coming plain out of a can.

Yield: 1 – 2 Servings

Pink Ombre Drink

Pink Ombre Drink

Popularized by Starbucks but improved by real ingredients, the famous pink drink blushes a bit more boldly with an infusion of freeze dried dragonfruit powder for flavor with beet powder for color.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Add a few drops of stevia to the brewed tea according to taste and divide it into two parts. To the first, whisk in the coconut milk powder. To the second, whisk in the beet root powder and pitaya powder.
  2. To serve, fill one or two glasses with ice. Pour a layer of the coconut mixture in first, and then gently pour an equal amount of the pitaya mixture on top, allowing the two to slowly swirl together. Enjoy immediately.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

2

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 18 Total Fat: 1g Saturated Fat: 0g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 2mg Sodium: 16mg Carbohydrates: 2g Fiber: 0g Sugar: 0g Protein: 1g

For a quick sip on a hot summer’s day, nothing can beat a zesty glass of fresh lemonade. Nothing, except for lemonade infused with the vitality of beets and fruitiness of blueberries. Mingling together in a harmonious purple blend, this is an easy way to introduce the pickiest of eaters and drinkers to the idea of liquefied root vegetables. Dynamic Health Laboratories Pure Blueberry Juice Concentrate is so powerful that just a tiny drop add volumes of fresh berry essence in an instant. Since whipping up this drink, I’ve used it as an utterly luscious glaze over baked tempeh and rich finishing drizzle over many salads, too.

Yield: 3 - 5 Servings

Purple Lemonade

Purple Lemonade

For a quick sip on a hot summer’s day, nothing can beat a zesty glass of fresh lemonade. Nothing, except for lemonade infused with the vitality of beets and fruitiness of blueberries. Mingling together in a harmonious purple blend, this is an easy way to introduce the pickiest of eaters and drinkers to the idea of liquefied root vegetables.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Simply mix together the water, lemon juice, blueberry juice concentrate, and beet powder in a large pitcher. Sweeten to taste with stevia, adding just a few drops at a time. Serve over ice with a few fresh blueberries on top, if desired.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

5

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 8 Total Fat: 0g Saturated Fat: 0g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 7mg Carbohydrates: 2g Fiber: 0g Sugar: 1g Protein: 0g

Finally, because this is the 21st century and we CAN have our cake and drink it, too, red velvet gets a nutritious boost from these beets, plus a powerful punch of Sunwarrior Vanilla Warrior Blend Protein. Thick and creamy, it’s good enough to call dessert, but healthy enough to throw down for breakfast.

Yield: 1 Serving

Red Velvet Protein Shake

Red Velvet Protein Shake

We CAN have our cake and drink it, too. Red velvet gets a nutritious boost from these beets, plus a powerful punch of protein powder. Thick and creamy, it’s good enough to call dessert, but healthy enough to throw down for breakfast.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Toss everything into your blender and puree on high speed, crushing the ice into a completely smooth mixture. Pause to scrape down the sides of the canister as needed to make sure the powder is full incorporated. Pour into a tall glass and top with an extra swirl of vanilla yogurt, if desired.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

1

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 160 Total Fat: 8g Saturated Fat: 5g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 2g Cholesterol: 30mg Sodium: 264mg Carbohydrates: 67g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 64g Protein: 18g
Beet powder is poised for culinary and nutritional domination as more people discover the benefits this humble root has to offer. Though still somewhat of a rarity, iHerb has you covered with this and thousands of other specialty goods to give your beverages an extra boost.

Another Nod to Nog

In case nine different nog options weren’t enough for you, I’ve got one more eggless trick up my sleeve this holiday season. Recipes for vegan eggnog abound, from raw, nut-based blends to cooked custards that approximate melted ice cream, and all of those approaches are welcome in my punch bowl. You can’t go too far wrong with this classic combination of sugar and spice. Even in the worst case situations, a certain “spirited” addition can erase all other culinary sins.

Truth be told, this particular formula still can’t hold a candle to my winning pick for this year’s Nog Off, but it’s an uncanny dupe for the majority of mainstream varieties. Thick and silky smooth just like the commercial formulas, this particular rendition brings more vanilla and nutmeg to the fore, without the excessive sweetness that so many brands inject.

It’s all because of an effort to clear out overstuffed kitchen cabinets that I stumbled upon leftover dregs of VeganEgg samples. Surprised to discover that no one else had yet turned this instant egg substitute into nog, I took it upon myself to fill that void. Thus, here’s one more decadent, delicious vegan nog to sip and savor this holiday season. You’re welcome, internet.

Yield: 4 - 6 Servings

VeganEgg Nog

VeganEgg Nog

Thick and silky smooth, this easy eggless nog features notes of vanilla with the spirited warmth of bourbon.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Additional Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3/4 Cup Cold Water
  • 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons VeganEgg
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Kala Namak
  • 3 1/2 Cups Non-Dairy Milk
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 Cup Bourbon, or Additional Non-Dairy Milk for an Alcohol-Free Option

To Serve (Optional):

Instructions

  1. Place the water and sugar in your blender first and start the machine up on low speed. While the motor runs, slowly sprinkle the powdered VeganEgg into the center of the liquid vortex. It’s essential that you do this in a blender and not by hand with a whisk, as it will clump and become a nasty, chunky, unsalvageable mess. That’s no way to get into the holiday spirit!
  2. Continue processing while adding the kala namak, non-dairy milk, and nutmeg. Once smooth, transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan set over moderate heat on your stove. Bring to a boil, whisking periodically, and immediately turn off the heat. Let cool before placing in the fridge. It may look somewhat thin while still warm, but have faith; it will continue to thicken as it cools. Allow at least 2 – 3 hours for it to chill thoroughly.
  3. Pour the nog back into the blender and add the vanilla and bourbon, or more non-dairy milk if you’d like to keep it non-alcoholic. Blend once more until creamy and ladle into glasses. To serve, top with whipped coconut cream and one last sprinkle of nutmeg. Cheers!

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 275 Total Fat: 8g Saturated Fat: 6g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 15mg Sodium: 128mg Carbohydrates: 33g Fiber: 2g Sugar: 31g Protein: 7g

Top Nog

What is it about the holiday season that incites us to cast all common sense aside and engage in otherwise inadvisable behavior, with childlike glee, no less? Whether that means racing outside into giant piles of freezing snow, risking frostbite to all appendages without a second thought, or racking up credit card bills for the sake of tree dressings and silly ornamentation used only once a year, we all write off these aberrations as all part of a collective Christmas madness shared throughout society. What causes you to throw out the rule book and deviate from standard operations? What touch of insanity do you entertain to make it really feel like the holidays are here? For me, that would be buying every single vegan nog option available across three towns for the sake of comparison.

Yes indeed, it’s the most wonderful time of the year: The great Nog-Off of 2017, pitting past industry heavy weights against startups and newbies to determine which eggless nog reigns supreme. This round was the most impressive yet, bringing in no less that nine different beverages vying for the title of Top Nog.

Time is of the essence, with each of these elusive elixirs produced for a very limited time during the most festive of days, so let’s pour a glass and get started, shall we?

It was an extremely difficult, close race to judge, but last place was obvious right away. Sorry, not sorry, but Rice Dream Rice Nog will never be welcome at my holiday party. Inexplicably pink and quite watery, it utilizes aggressive sweetness to compensate for a distinct lack of flavor. Granted, it’s not outright dreadful, but not even close to “authentic” nog. On the plus side, the rice base will appeal to those with severe allergies, and the aseptic, shelf-stable carton means it will keep well… Possibly for years… Much like an unwanted fruitcake.

That said, this came as no surprise. My greatest disappointment was actually the second to last place finisher, the highly esteemed MALK Pecan MALK Nog. Tawny brown, it stood out with a distinctive darkness in a sea of pastel hues, owing to a unique blend of maple syrup and whole pecans as a base. The bottle isn’t kidding when it admonishes the drinker to shake “super” well; no stabilizers or fillers means that this stuff separates, which I can certainly appreciate from a stance of ingredient integrity and a commitment to quality. Scented strongly of cinnamon, the overall impression was surprisingly light, dangerously drinkable- Smooth and sweet, but not particularly thick or rich. Sadly, this made it more reminiscent of horchata than eggnog. It just couldn’t cut the mustard for that full-bodied eggless experience.

From there, things improve drastically. Luckily, you can’t go too far wrong with most selections available Nationwide, and in fact a number of these cartons could be interchanged without any guests being being the wiser.

Califia Holiday Nog and Silk Nog Original pull in the next rank up, tied for their close flavor profiles and consistencies. Silk is perhaps a touch sweeter, if anything. Though the former is almond-based and the later soy, both have a smooth, creamy pour equivalent to the average, slightly richer non-dairy milk. There’s a distinctive brightness at first sip that defies definition; almost like undefinable spice or burst of acidity, but without warmth or sharpness. Fine as an everyday, everyman sort of nog, a hit of bourbon or brandy would be a welcome addition to make things a bit more festive. Fairly neutral, without explicit nutmeg nor eggy notes, either would be inoffensive, if undistinguished, offerings on the drink buffet.

Fresh on the market, Trader Joe’s Almond Nog has already taken Instagram by storm, right along with the impressive array of new vegan options that seem to crop up on each new trip to the store. Smooth and mellow, creamy, and boasting a balanced sweetness, this blend presents a harmonious middle of the road option that should please all who imbibe. Satisfingly in thick, not overbearing nor weighed down by gums, a light hand on the spicing and very subtle nutty undertone explains why dairy-free drinkers are delighted by this new choice. No one would mistake it for the traditional brew, but no one would complain about the substitution, either.

Moving on up, it’s with sadness and joy that I must report that previous grand champion So Delicious Seasonal Coconut Holiday Nog has been dethroned! It’s a sad blow to the superlative brand, but a boon to veganism that there are even greater choices to pick from now. Still a genuinely delicious selection, true to the name, the coconut base is definitely rich, decadent, and bold. That said, it was all love and sweetness on the first sip, and then… A startling aftertaste of old latex bandaids came to the fore. Off-putting, upsetting, to say the least, this mysterious sour note almost put it on the naught list this year. Such missteps would certainly be forgiven with a splash of booze to smooth things over, but otherwise it was fabulous!

Another fresh face on the scene is making a big splash, pulling in a top spot with an unconventional flaxseed fixation. Good Karma Holiday Nog is the one and only flax nog on earth, to my knowledge. Glowing with the palest complexion of pastel yellow, the flavor profile is defined by a restrained sweetness, a bare hint of spice, and a subtle nutty, pleasantly grassy aftertaste. Smooth and creamy, but slightly sticky, it lingers on the palate in an indulgent sort of way that belies its impressively light calorie load.

In a big upset, my mainstream market nog of choice this year turned out to be Classic Almond Breeze Almondmilk Nog. Curiously absent from the official brand website and difficult to track down, it was a sleeper hit. So easy to drink, creamy and cool, it makes no bones about the almond base with an attempt to cover up the nutty influence, incorporating it harmoniously within the overall beverage instead. Vanilla plays a more prominent role in this blend, and although I do wish there was more nutmeg sparkling throughout the mix, this was the bottle I ultimately wanted more of when all were drained.

But that’s not the end of the story. There was one clear, standout winner here, rising far above the ranks of these more attainable options. The crown is well deserved, for its genuinely egg-like richness, sheer decadence, and clear holiday spirit. Though you may need to special-order it online, the efforts would be worthwhile for a true nog lover. The Urban Remedy No Egg Nog is in a class all its own. Rich and filling, with a clean finish, it has a very different texture from the rest of the pack, without gums or stabilizers. Though easily the most indulgent option available, it’s arguably the most healthy, owing to its simple, natural ingredients; whole almonds, cashews, and dates join forces in this nutmeg-centric and boldly spiced beverage that drinks like a meal. A considerable sprinkle of salt boosts the flavor up to eleven, making it entirely crave-worthy on a whole new level. This is what the holiday season is all about: a rare, special treat that breaks through the typical structure of one’s daily life, or daily diet, as it were. You wouldn’t drink it everyday, but you’ll miss it dearly when it’s gone.

To all those unfortunately out of driving or delivery range, the sweet folks at Urban Remedy have a generous holiday present to share. You can actually scope out their unique recipe, posted for all to enjoy and freely imbibe.

If all that noggin’ around doesn’t get you into the holiday spirit, I don’t know what will.

So, how did your favorites stack up? Do you agree with the 2017 Nog-Off results, or are you willing to pick a fight for your own personal winner? More importantly though, did I miss any other contenders for the next round?